Fans expressing love for their favourite band, sports team or actor is not a new phenomenon. From Beatlemania in the 60’s to Manchester United’s football fanatics of the 90’s; modern culture really has always been driven by its collective fans. With the advent of digital fandoms in the noughties, there’s now an online community for every passion you can think of - transcending all barriers of location, age, identity and more. However 2023 may just go down in the history books as the year when fandoms went really stratospheric; from mega film releases to the biggest attended music events of the century, it’s the fans who’ve been making the headlines in culture.
In this week's 52INSIGHTS, we stan the fans - and find out how modern fandom can inspire great brand behaviour in comms.
“Fandom is the state of being an enthusiastic fan of something or someone and has become increasingly interactive in the internet age.” Collins Dictionary
One person is a fan, but when lots and lots of fans come together to create their own community, we call it a ‘fandom.’ Cultural commentators opine that in fact, the establishment of the modern internet could have only been possible through fandoms and owes its success to this very unique behaviour of interactive digital community building. The ‘Stan Twitter’ tribe, for example, is a particular community of Twitter users that post opinions related to celebrities, music, TV shows, movies, and social media.
Technology provides the perfect conditions for fandom to flourish, but at the core of thriving fandoms we see a beautifully human insight; everyone is a fan of something:
“Some fans collect merchandise while others create and share memes. Some fans line up at dawn to purchase concert tickets or get their hands on new sneakers, while others find joy in tuning into a livestream or participating in online discussions. One thing is clear: We’re all fans of something.” The Anatomy of Hype Study, June 21st 2023
It is our fandoms, passions and deep-seated devotions that often give us a sense of purpose and connection in life. The fact that fandoms are often given collective names and identities (like Beyonce’s Beyhive, Taylor Swift’s Swifties and Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters) further speaks to the humanness at the heart of the best fandoms.
A GENERATION MADE FOR FANDOM
“Cool brands are usually like cool people - like you feel proud to be with them, to wear them…” Alan, 26, UK, The Love Network
At The Youth Lab, we’ve also seen how the expression of fandom is something to be embraced and admired. Whether it’s celebrities or cultural personalities, we’re seeing Gen Z audiences seek out authentic characters who are proud to embrace their ‘nerdy’ tendencies and interests - because these make them singularly unique and different. Reflecting particular identities and values, the celebration of fandom is not only fuelled behaviourally through digital engagement, but is also attitudinally aspirational. An unbridled passion is something to take joy and pride in, to connect with others and can be the unique thing that makes you an unabashed weirdo! The recent Barbie film phenomenon is a great example of how this modern generation builds and contributes to a fandom through a collective expression of identity.
“[Seeing Beyoncé’s Renaissance show] was incredible..I’ve been rewatching my videos of the show ever since, I don't know how I am going to get back to real life now. Truly!” Alex Anele, 32, LA YouTuber
THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY
There are positives and negatives to this new era of fandoms that is shaping youth culture.
Creativity and Fashion: Fandoms are endlessly creative - but these fans are taking things to a whole new level, especially when it comes to fashion. The concert outfits created by fans at Beyoncé, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift shows this summer were taken to the extreme, driven largely by TikTok content. #ErasTourOutfits, for example, has about a billion views and fans are getting inspired by the fashion decisions of their heroes.
Connection & Play: It’s not just about stadium tour singalongs with dad - local clubs and venues hosting tribute nights and singalong parties are creating moments for fans to connect and make memories in ways that can be more accessible to the average fan.
Getting Political: Remember when K Pop fans disrupted a Trump rally by buying up hundreds of tickets? The power fandoms hold shouldn’t be underestimated!
Driving consumption: The capitalist nature of music fandom culture was revealed with various Ticketmaster scandals in recent years. We also saw brands like NastyGal jump on the trend with website sections for 'The Eras Tour', 'The Reniassance Tour', 'Love on Tour' and Elton John's 'Yellow Brick Road Tour'. Some expressions of fandom can feel like the antithesis to young people wanting to adopt more sustainable lifestyle habits. But many are getting inspired by online content and then creative with second hand:
"I wore some Adidas campers that I got off Vinted, because they are 'Harry's trainer' and they are pink, which was the colour of the concert.” Sophie Hill, 23, from Manchester, BBC
Economic benefits: Spending on Beyoncé and Taylor Swift's concert tours, Barbie, and Oppenheimer is expected to add about $8.5 billion to the economy in Q3 of 2023, according to a report by Morgan Stanley - and Beyoncé and Swift’s tours comprise about two-thirds of the $8.5 billion, by driving spending rooted in experiential.
Cancel Culture and Toxic Fandoms: Fandoms bring with them heightened emotions. Humans being placed on pedestals is bound to break a heart or two. We’re seeing fandom impact cancel culture narratives in extreme ways - like fandoms demanding their heroes break up with partners deemed problematic.
“Fandom is deeply rooted in identity and values, and fans are likely to “cancel” people who violate norms of justice and moral responsibility. As fandoms represent community and comfort, fans are quick to denounce threats to these spaces.” Dr Alison M Joubert, The University of Queensland and Dr Jack Coffin, University of Manchester
Some communities are said to have even toxic fandoms because of online trolls spreading hate and divisive polarity.
Tap Into Fandoms!
Whether it’s sharing appropriate appreciation (stan) for artists on social media, or looking at ways to celebrate fandoms IRL, there are many ways to embrace the positive sides of fandom, where younger people can feel a sense of belonging:
- Involve mega fans in conversations and celebrations of iconic brand moments. A great example of this is our recent Lynx campaign celebrating the G.O.A.T fragrance, as voted by fans.
- Put the spotlight on your fans; Barry’s Tea uses social media to celebrate the ways that their superfans express their love for their favourite tea.
- Ben & Jerry’s has a long history of recognising and harnessing the power of its ice-cream loving fans for social justice activism.